EDITORIAL: African leaders must own up to their failures

Saturday September 24 2022
African leaders

African leaders at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PHOTO | FILE

By The EastAfrican

Remarks by African leaders during the 77th session of UN's General Assembly this past week, encapsulate contemporary’s Africa’s moral dilemma.

Owed by the West for past indiscretions and grievous harm, Africa’s post-Independence leaders raise a legitimate issue when they demand reparations. But their case is undermined by their own record. From the military general who has swapped combat fatigues for the finest cuts from Savile Row, to the average bureaucrat, the elite have not stopped shortchanging their own people.

Six decades into Independence, pleas for help to meet SDGs, tackle hunger, insecurity and debt waivers have become fairly predictable. Coming against a culture of repression and chronic economic mismanagement, they tend to undermine, rather than buttress the case for reparations. The question, rarely answered, is what difference would a massive injection of financial resources from the indebted West, make it to ordinary folk, in a continent that is so opaquely governed and already, the recipient of significant infusions of cash from the West?

African Union chairperson Macky Sall, may have struck a popular chord when he asked for a permanent seat for the AU at the G20 Summit. Such a move is not only emotionally important but quite practical if one considers the fact that nearly a fifth of the world’s population, is resident in Africa. On the flipside, is the question of the substantive value in such a move. Established 77 years ago, the United Nations was based on the principle of “sovereign equality of all nations.” Yet even here, with a few exceptions, African countries generally play second fiddle, dancing to the tune of “his master’s voice.”

The simple truth is that Africa should aspire to measure up to its weight in gold and pull itself out of the gutters with a new social contract between the governors and the governed. A starting point could be to own up and reconcile the past to the present. Assigning blame for present failures to the past has become standard rhetoric by African politicians while blissfully repeating past mistakes. The terms in resource extraction agreements signed between African governments and Western business conglomerates, over the past 50 years, barely impact citizens’ life better than the good old free for all. To add insult to injury, the details of these deals remain hidden from the masses. These are concessions signed away by a crop of enlightened and exposed present-day presidents, and prime ministers yet they cannot be trusted to stand in the public light.

If it is at all possible to learn from anyone, Africa should look to China and India. Both countries have suffered from extractive colonialism, they have been able to rise from the bottom, to secure a place at the table.


The statements by African leaders during the UN General Assembly also reflect an absence of a common purpose for matters strictly African. The DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi launched into a tirade against neighbours Rwanda while Kenya spoke to some matters that are of national concern.

African countries can only earn respect not just within international bodies but overall, if they show purpose, institute accountable and run democratic governments. They must own up to their failures, and involve citizens in decision making.

Mixed messages about democracy and peoples’ rights excoriating Western democratic values as un-African whenever it suits them while cherry-picking whatever they desire from there, does not speak to leaders who represent their people.